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Summoning 'The Demon'

BY ROB MCGOWAN, STRATEGY DIRECTOR 

“With Artificial Intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

This was a headline grabbing statement by Elon Musk in a 2014 conference where he warned that artificial intelligence could be the biggest threat facing humanity. When faced with existential threats of any number of varieties humans have, throughout time, often turned to religion. Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that a silicon valley executive Anthony Levandowski has started an AI worshiping religious organisation ‘Way of the Future’. Or to put it another way, God is a Bot and Levandowski is the messenger (I’ve stolen that from Wired magazine, but it was too good not to re-use).

The goal of the religion is to develop and promote the realisation of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence. With autonomous vehicles soon to transport us around cities, machines truly starting to deliver interesting creative output and numerous aspect of our lives now controlled, or at least influenced by AI algorithms it isn’t that much of a stretch to see how a groundswell of belief could form around the idea of an omnipotent iPad.

Raymond Kurzweil famously predicted that the singularity, the point at which a self-improving artificial intelligence would qualitatively surpass all human intelligence, would occur in 2045. From that point forwards he predicted that this superhuman intelligence would be so complex as to be unfathomable by human minds. A side effect of this, he argues, is the possibility that we can reach digital immortality through uploading our minds in to the machine – essentially storing our thoughts, experiences and ideas in the system. Sharing our souls with an unseen yet all-knowing God, demigod… or demon.

As AI applications branch out in to every aspect of our lives, they challenge not just the comparatively prosaic world of the marketer but the very pillars around which society has been constructed. The implications will touch everybody, everywhere, forever. Whether you are religious or not, I will leave you with this quote from Kurzweil who when asked about the possibility of divine intelligence responded: “Does God exist? I would say, ‘Not yet”.